10 Feb 2021: Days after Uttarakhand disaster, rescue personnel enter Tapovan tunnel
Late last night, nearly 60 hours after a flash flood shook Chamoli district in Uttarakhand, rescue teams managed to enter the 2.5-km-long Tapovan tunnel, where 25-35 people are still trapped.
A joint team of Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP), NDRF (National Disaster Response Force), and State Disaster Response Force (SDRF) cleared debris.
But the unfavorable condition is making the team's job cumbersome.
Challenges: Tunnel has just one entrance, is U-shaped
The structure of the tunnel poses the biggest problem. It is U-shaped, has one entrance, and is naturally dark. In a clip, shared by ANI, rescue personnel were seen entering the tunnel with a great deal of caution.
Wearing high-visibility jackets and helmets, they struggled to walk through the ankle-deep slush.
The team's priority, for now, is clearing the sludge, quickly and safely.
Caution: 'Go back, it is not safe'
Once inside, the men at the job also passed warning messages to one another. One was heard saying, "Nobody else will enter... nobody. Go back, it is not safe."
Another one suggested installing something on the wall while there was one voice that said, "Shine the light there, shine it there."
The sound of falling water could be heard and a drone was seen.
Fact: The video can be seen here
Drone: Images from drone showed no human presence
As it's racing against time, the team is hoping technology fills the gaps.
Yesterday, even as members of the rescue team could reach up to only 90 meter in the tunnel, a drone reached up to 120 meter. The drone, having five cameras, flew between the slush and the tunnel's roof.
However, the pictures it clicked failed to show any human presence.
Laser imaging: Helicopter with laser imager also surveyed the area
Separately, a helicopter, carrying a laser imager sent by the Hyderabad-based National Geophysical Research Institute, also surveyed the area to identify air pockets yesterday.
Manjunath PC, Commandant, Indian Reserve Battalion, who is coordinating the rescue efforts, said, "The presence of air pockets will mean that our people may be trapped there and that we will have to get to that point."
Statement: Don't know how deep inside tunnel the slush is: Manjunath
Manjunath revealed that air pockets will tell how much slush still remains to be removed.
"So far we don't know how deep inside the tunnel the slush is, and how much more area we have to clear," he told IE.
And an SDRF personnel lamented that the sludge keeps returning. "Progress is slow but we are trying to speed it up," the official said.
Hope: The rescue personnel, fighting all odds, are not giving up
Though time and circumstances are not on their side, the rescue personnel aren't losing hope.
A senior ITPB official said the trapped men weren't able to make any contact but they are determined to find "signs of life."
Meanwhile, on Tuesday, six more bodies were recovered — four from the Rishi Ganga power project in Raini village, one from Chamoli, and another from Nandprayag.